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How can you tell if someone is suicidal?

September 29, 2013

Over 2,000 people die of suicide in Australia each year. Every one represents the loss of a valuable person’s life and a tragedy for their loved ones, friends and the entire community.

Many years of experience has shown that suicide prevention can work. Just having someone to talk to can bring many people back from the brink.

Suicide prevention requires the support of the entire community. But you can also play a vital role by understanding the warning signs and, where you see them, seeking help.

What can you do?

If you are concerned about someone close to you, please ask for help and advice. You can contact us or call one of our help is available partners:

  • Lifeline – 13 1114
  • Mensline Australia Line – 1300 789978
  • Kids Help Line – 1800 55 1800
  • Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659467.

Warning signs

Some of the most notable warning signs are as follows. They are particularly pertinent if the person you are concerned about has a history of depression.

  • A person is suffering from a tragic or challenging event, such as the loss of a loved one, serious illness or a financial struggle.
  • A person you know is experiencing ongoing challenges. This could include personal problems or illness such as depression or external challenges such as bullying.
  • Getting affairs in order, giving away possessions or saying goodbye might indicate that a person has decided to commit suicide.
  • Sudden changes of habit, such as self-isolation, loss of interest or motivation or reckless activity.
  • Significant mood swings. Even a sudden sign of calm in a depressed person might indicate that they have made a decision.
  • Statements of deep regret or suffering such as “you’ll be better off without me” or “I can’t go on”.
  • A change in physical appearance or activity, such as becoming dishevelled, sudden weight changes or a loss of energy.

Suicide Myths

It is also important to understand that not everything you hear about suicide is correct. There are many myths, such as those reported by the US organisation SAVE – Suicide Awareness Voices of Education:

“People who talk about suicide won’t really do it.”

Not True. Almost everyone who commits or attempts suicide has given some clue or warning. Do not ignore suicide threats. Statements like “you’ll be sorry when I’m dead,” “I can’t see any way out,” – no matter how casually or jokingly said, may indicate serious suicidal feelings.

“Anyone who tries to kill him/herself must be crazy.”

Not True. Most suicidal people are not psychotic or insane. They may be upset, grief-stricken, depressed or despairing. Extreme distress and emotional pain are always signs of mental illness but are not signs of psychosis.

“If a person is determined to kill him/herself, nothing is going to stop him/her.”

Not True. Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, and most waiver until the very last moment between wanting to live and wanting to end their pain. Most suicidal people do not want to die; they want the pain to stop. The impulse to end it all, however overpowering, does not last forever.

“People who commit suicide are people who were unwilling to seek help.”

Not True. Studies of adult suicide victims have shown that more then half had sought medical help within six month before their deaths and a majority had seen a medical professional within 1 month of their death.

“Talking about suicide may give someone the idea.”

Not True. You don’t give a suicidal person ideas by talking about suicide. The opposite is true – bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do.